Our rental was right behind the "Welcome to Crested Butte" sign and just blocks away from the falafel pita at Pitas in Paradise. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on July 21, 2023. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.

It’s wildflower season in Crested Butte. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Last weekend was my fourth trip to the Rocky Mountains over the past nine months, and I have to say that Crested Butte in mid-July just may be the epitome of a warm-weather Rockies experience. The wildflower rainbow was in full bloom (coinciding conveniently with their annual Wildflower Fest), the cloud-scraping peaks pumped fairytale Switzerland vibes, and the town itself seems like it’s managing to stay appropriately grassroots-hippie-weird while keeping up with modern epicurean and hospitality standards. (No one even seems to lock up anything, even ebikes, which was pretty refreshing.)

We were there for my cousin Ashley’s wedding. She’s the lead singer of an ’80s (and now ’90s) cover band based in Boulder called The Goonies, which played three rocking shows over the weekend, including the wedding itself. (How cool is that to play your own wedding?) But we still had time to check out the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory scene in Gothic, jump into both Emerald and Long lakes, hike around Beaver Ponds, and — no surprise for readers of this newsletter — dive into the bustling restaurant scene during what must have been their busiest weekend of the year.

The chili verde bowl at Bonez was enjoyed as Paonia Paella prepared paella for a private event just down the main drag of Crested Butte. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Everything was quite tasty, and aside from some understandably longer waits here and there, I had no complaints. Highlights included Gothic shrimp and carbonated cocktails at Izakaya Cabin; the OG, hummus, and falafel wraps at Pitas in Paradise; the Mexican corn dip at Public House; the salads, salsas, and chili verde bowl at Bonez; and the beers and peanut-butter whiskey at I Bar Ranch. We didn’t make it to Elk Avenue Prime, but I heard the Colorado elk, buffalo ravioli, and pork chops were great. The Sunday farmers’ and art market was also loaded with goodness, though I only had room in my stomach and bags for beef jerky, a ramen packet, and dehydrated fruit.

Check my Instagram photos here.

Jalama Canyon Launches NFT Wine Club

The team discusses regenerative ag at Jalama Canyon Ranch. | Credit: Courtesy

Using cutting-edge blockchain technology as a fundraising tool, the White Buffalo Land Trust (WBLT) is auctioning off a series of NFTs that will directly support their mission of advancing regenerative agriculture at Jalama Canyon Ranch (JCR) and beyond. Members of the JCR Club will get advanced and guaranteed access to the property’s wines, olive oil, meats, essential oils, botanicals, and merchandise as well as the chance to attend associated events, classes, and tours at the ranch.

“As a land stewardship organization, we see great potential to co-create with our friends that are land stewards in the metaverse,” said WBLT founder Steve Finkel. “We have already found great parallels between the two seemingly polar-opposite environments, and we see the nexus of the digital and real universes as an exciting place of innovation.”

Starting on Wednesday, July 26, at 8 a.m., the nonprofit — which oversees the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at Jalama Canyon Ranch — will mint the first 100 JCR Club tokens as NFTs. Each one will be geo-spatially linked to a specific acre of Jalama Canyon Ranch, and appear as 3D digital representations of that slice of the ranch, featuring the various physical and biological highlights of each real-world plot.

Interested investors must sign up in advance at thejcrclub.com and await further instructions for the minting process, which will use the cryptocurrency Ethereum. There will eventually be 1,000 tokens, which will function like membership cards that can be gifted, traded, or sold in an open market.

The first 500 tokens purchased will include the first year’s allocation of wines made from the property by Sashi Moorman of Sandhi Wines, while the first 100 will be entered to win a cellar experience for two people at Sandhi. There are other incentives as well for the tokens, which cost one 0.5 Ethereum (ETH), valued at nearly $1,000 as of earlier this week.

[Click to enlarge] These are some of the non-fungible tokens being issued for the JCR Club. | Credit: Courtesy

To be perfectly honest, I barely understand a bunch of what you just read, even though I did write it. Probably like many of you, I’ve never fully grasped the NFT thing, and it feels like the cryptocurrency-related blockchain world is more hype than reality.

But I’ve been repeatedly wrong in my technology predictions and, at least in this case, you’re supporting the region’s most ambitious regenerative agriculture project. Plus, we know Sashi makes great wine and Jalama Canyon is a unique site, so that combination is sure to produce enjoyable results. And these tokens look pretty cool, especially if you’re into nature and maps.

For more information that may make more sense, check out this video about the project and listen to this conversation about the JCR Club between David Garrett at Club dVIN and Sashi Moorman of Sandhi Wines, along with Jalama Canyon Jesse Smith. Questions can be directly emailed to thejcrclub@whitebuffalolandtrust.org.

Thomas Keller Teams with Ty Warner

The balcony of Tydes at the Coral Casino | Credit: Courtesy

The Santa Barbara restaurant scene is abuzz with news that Thomas Keller — arguably the most celebrated American chef alive — is teaming with Ty Warner to bring his Michelin-starred brand of cuisine to the Coral Casino on the Montecito shoreline. I wrote a short piece about it here.

This is a major milestone for Santa Barbara’s hospitality scene, further evidence that our agricultural and culinary communities are attracting the attention of the best chefs in the world. That momentum started growing long ago, but it reached a fever pitch in recent years, and I hope the peak only continues to grow higher in the years to come.

But there’s a bit about this news that leaves me and others I know in the scene a tad cynical. One is the announced timing of Keller’s concepts being ready this fall. Given the excruciatingly slow pace that’s plagued pretty much every other restaurant opening ever in Santa Barbara, that seems extremely ambitious.

[UPDATE: It was brought to my attention on July 27 that there was some confusion caused by the press release issued from Ty Warner, which explained, “Warner’s team can now move forward with implementing their operations program for a fall opening” and came under the headline: “Ty Warner Taps Thomas Keller to Helm Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club Cuisine and Dining Experience; Club to Reopen in the Fall.” To me, that was a clear indication of hopes for a fall opening of the dining concepts.

However, the release was meant to specifically refer to just the Coral Casino in general, not the new food & drink plans, and Keller is not prepared to estimate an opening date for his operations. The transition will begin this fall, and, according to Warner’s team, “The full-fledged, fully formed Keller concept will be launched later, which will include the public access to Tydes.”]

Then there’s the likelihood that — although they’re opening Tydes to the public for the first time ever — only the upper echelon of Santa Barbara’s elite (or perhaps it will be more Angeleno elites?) will ever enjoy this celebrated cuisine. That’s the reality for many fancy restaurants, of course, but it makes any citywide celebration of this otherwise laudatory local achievement a bit more muted.

Biltmore employees protest Ty Warner’s decision to not reopen the hotel and leave them all unemployed. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss (file)

Most concerning is that an icon of American dining is partnering with a controversial hotelier whose record on labor issues — among other controversies over the years — appears pretty shameful, based on recent reports in this newspaper and many others, leading to a class-action suit filed by 450 employees of the shuttered-for-no-clear-reason Four Seasons Biltmore last year. That’s not a great look for anyone, but certainly not in this age where proper treatment of employees is more under the spotlight than ever before. That light is especially bright in the hospitality industry, and thankfully other Santa Barbara County restaurants, like Bell’s in Los Alamos (whose owners, Greg and Daisy Ryan, actually met while working for Keller’s Per Se in New York City), are considered national leaders in doing things right.

There’s also a recent tax dispute with the county related to the Biltmore, Warner’s previous tax battles with the federal government, and this crazy tale of his ex-girlfriend suing him for $400 million while claiming identify theft and abuse. The real story of that one may never be known — people can and do claim all sorts of things in lawsuits — but it’s pretty wacky even if only a fraction is true.

I’ve been told that there may be news on the Biltmore labor and tax fronts coming soon, so hopefully those issues are resolved and the hundreds of our neighbors who lost their jobs without any proper warning or equitable compensation will be made whole. Maybe then I’ll see you at the Coral Casino this fall?

From Our Table

An early Ocean Fathoms pour | Photo: Matt Kettmann (file)

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